Due to the Covid-19 lockdown, bookshops in Italy closed on March 12 and reopened on April 15. By the end of February, though, the fear of the coronavirus had already emptied bookstores. Indeed, some indie booksellers spontaneously closed their stores before March 12 by choice, in order to protect the health of their customers and staff. At the same time, all the independent bookshop members of the Italian Children’s Booksellers Association (ALIR) started meeting on Google Meet and pursue a multitude of new projects.

The first project was called “A Universe of Stories. Starring the Book,” a virtual exhibition of picture books that tell stories of libraries and librarians, bookstores, publishers, activists, writers, and pioneers who have made a difference in the world of children’s culture. The exhibit, which can be visited on the Bologna Children’s Book Fair site,is the result of cooperation between ALIR and Accademia Drosselmeier, the school for booksellers and a research center for children’s literature, founded 15 years ago by the team of the Bologna-based Giannino Stoppani Children’s Bookstore.

The second project—the one we care most about—is Bookcoin, which we had been thinking about for quite some time. We wanted to create a new currency that could be used to buy only books. And the coronavirus emergency, with the consequent economic decline, simply sped up completion of the project. Illustrator Ivan Canu has designed the banknotes displaying the portraits of such authors as Gianni Rodari, Roald Dahl, and Astrid Lindgren, while a committee has been set up to launch the campaign.

All the ALIR children’s bookshops will use these banknotes as gift vouchers, but Bookcoins are mainly intended to be used for financial support and loans. They can also represent share units to invest in new independent bookstores. With its forward-looking approach, the Bookcoin project focuses not only on the necessary future of independent bookstores, but also on those financial actions that can breathe new life into the world of children’s culture.

With this in view, the project involves setting up a foundation, a steering committee, and the appointment of a Children’s Laureate, a position to be awarded once every two years to a poet, a writer or illustrator of children’s books to celebrate outstanding achievement in their field.

Politically and economically, Bookcoins can become a precious investment towards a better future for local and national governments, too: they will fund new libraries in the poorest and most underdeveloped areas of Italy, school libraries (from nursery schools to high schools), book festivals, and teacher training courses, just to give a few examples.

Who can invest in Bookcoins? All the modern-day Andrew Carnegies! The Italian bank foundations, charitable organizations, corporate donors, business income taxpayers, all nonprofit entities pursuing civic, social or solidarity purposes, for instance. And individuals, of course.

We will also ask for support from publishers, from writers who have sold 100,000 copies of a book, as well as recipients of important prizes, such as the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award. It’s our Marshall Plan for children’s books.

So, now, if you dear American friends want to join us, you are welcome!

Grazia Gotti is co-founder of the Giannino Stoppani children’s bookshop in Bologna, Italy, as well as of the Accademia Drosselmeier, a school for booksellers and study center for children’s literature.